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Masters 2016: Dustin Johnson brings patient approach to Augusta

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The Sports Xchange
Dustin Johnson watches his shot on the 5th tee during a practice round before the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National in Augusta, Georgia on April 5, 2016. Photo by Kevin Dietsch
Dustin Johnson watches his shot on the 5th tee during a practice round before the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National in Augusta, Georgia on April 5, 2016. Photo by Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

Dustin Johnson can close his eyes and picture himself donning the legendary green jacket. Part of the appeal of adding that outer layer would be shedding the label of best player on tour without a major championship.

The Masters victory visual is not difficult to conjure, considering Johnson has been so painfully close to winning a major many times. But Johnson's best Masters finish came last year when he was sixth.

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"A lot of things have to go your way to have a chance to win on Sunday," Johnson said. "It's tough. (The course) doesn't reward mediocre shots. You've got to hit all of them in the right spots, and when you do miss it, you have to make sure you miss it in the right spot. So those kind of things, that's what makes this place very difficult. I think the more I play it, the more comfortable I get here, the more I know kind of where you have to hit it to certain flags."

If Johnson could write the script of winning his first of golf's four majors, this is the one. He grew up relatively close in Columbia, S.C., a 73-mile drive west on Interstate 20 from Augusta.

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Johnson's most recent heartbreak came at the U.S. Open last summer.

Facing a 12-foot eagle putt for the win at Chambers Bay, Johnson botched the opportunity, then missed

Johnson putts on the 4th green during a practice round before the 2016 Masters. Photo by Kevin Dietsch
what would have been a putt to force a playoff for Jordan Spieth. Instead, Johnson put another painful defeat in his bag after the three-putt finish.

Sooner or later, Johnson believes experiencing failure will be a positive.

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"That gives me a lot of confidence. If I'm in that situation on Sunday, I know I can get it done. I know I can hit the shots that I need to hit and put myself in position."

Johnson, 31, is one of the longest hitters on tour. He finished in the top three in driving distance three straight seasons. His driver is the reason Johnson is regularly considered a contender. But Johnson said length off the tee won't determine who gets to make the green jacket a reality this week.

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"I think short game and putting is the key around here. I feel like I hit the ball pretty well most of the time. I think if I chip and putt it well, bunkers well, then I'm going to compete and have a chance to win on Sunday," he said.

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Many consider Johnson the best player on the PGA Tour not to win a major. If he doesn't play well, the label he wears instead of a green jacket into the first round Thursday will not be shed by Sunday.

"If your name's getting mentioned, best player, whether, you know, whatever comes after that, is usually pretty good. I've got to say it's positive," Johnson said. "You know, I still feel like my time's coming. I've just got to keep putting myself in position to have a chance to win. One of these days I will get it done."

Henrik Stenson, a four-time runner-up last season who finished second to first-time winner Jim Herman - the 191st-ranked player on tour who earned a spot in the Masters this week - said his trademark trait of patience is even more essential around the greens at Augusta. But going into attack mode in the final round in 2015 netted Stenson a four-under 68.

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"I think my strategy is to play a little bit more aggressive this year and shoot a bit more for the pins, because I feel like I tried to play a little too defensive in the past, and if you're looking at the leaders and the winners, they all tend to make about 20 birdies this week," Stenson said. "There's no point going out there with a strategy to try and make 14 birdies and no bogeys. That's still going to come up short.

But on the other hand, you can't take stupid risks. I think the patients is more if you end up in trouble, you want to try and minimize it, make a bogey. Double-bogeys are always hard to make up for in major championships.

"If you don't get on a good run, you've just got to stay patient because you will have a good run at some point if you're going to have anything to do with the final outcome."

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